Google's constantly evolving algorithm takes a variety of factors into account when determining website rankings. From a macro level, content quality and relevance reign supreme.
From a micro level, backlink anchor text plays into both essentials, but it's a double-edged sword. If used correctly, it elevates SEO—but haphazard anchor text could cause an otherwise promising page's ranking to plummet.
What is anchor text?
As an internet user, you're exposed to anchor text every day, even if you don't realize it. This term refers to the visible, easy-to-click text that links you to other websites.
Typically, the word or phrase forming the anchor text is underlined and highlighted in a contrasting color. This makes it easy to identify. Blue, underlined text is most common, although anchor text also appears in other colors and styles, depending on a website’s design.
How does anchor text impact SEO?
When implemented correctly, anchor text forms a key component of an effective SEO and content strategy. It has the power to visually break up text while offering readers access to quality resources. These elements influence perceived page quality—a top factor in search engine rankings, according to Google.
Anchor text's exact influence on SEO is difficult to ascertain, as it is one of several factors used to determine page rankings. Its primary value arguably lies in its ability to influence several key elements of SEO at the same time. For example, effective anchor text may simultaneously incorporate relevant keywords while referencing authoritative web pages and making text easier to scan.
Types of Anchor Text
Outside of its formatting, anchor text varies in its content and landing page destinations. Some types of anchor text level up your website's SEO, while others increase the risk of search engine penalties.
Regularly featured on high-ranking websites, branded links consist exclusively of an organization or product's name. This name is linked to a corresponding page. Examples include “Tom's of Maine” or the “New York State Bar Association.”
Branded links may also integrate keywords or other relevant language to grant readers a better sense of the hyperlink's destination. For example, instead of sending readers directly to REI’s homepage, anchor text may be worded as “REI women's hiking boots” to reference both the company's name and intended brand category.
Sometimes referred to as "optimized links," this type of anchor text refers to links that feature the exact keywords of the destination page. This type of anchor text enhances SEO when used sparingly.
If the branded link is removed, the aforementioned women's hiking boots example qualifies as an exact keyword match—assuming that "women's hiking boots" constitutes the page's primary keyword. Anchor text commonly incorporates both short and long-tail keywords.
Partial keyword matches
Not every hyperlink needs to reference a main keyword. In fact, high keyword usage is best avoided, as it brings a spammy feel to otherwise authoritative content. Variations on keywords, however, prevent repetition while still incorporating relevant links.
If, for example, the primary keyword of a web page is "managed IT services," anchor text with a partial match might reference "managed services for small businesses."
Naked links incorporate a landing page's URL into the anchor text. The term "naked" describes the visibility of the URL, which is typically hidden from sight.
As its name suggests, generic anchor text features a basic word or phrase such as “read more.” This directs visitors to a different website without getting into specifics regarding the intended destination.
5 Best Practices for Optimizing Anchor Text
No one application of anchor text works for every hyperlink. The best type of anchor text to use depends on the purpose of the content and the nature of the linked landing page.
Ideally, however, optimized content features several types of anchor text—all used sparingly to prevent keyword stuffing penalties.
1. Aim for relevance.
Readers hate surprises. Most will be upset if anchor text implies a specific type of landing page but leads elsewhere instead. Stick with relevant hyperlinks that are naturally integrated into content to meet your readers’ expectations.
2. Don't forget backlink quality.
The quality of each link is determined not only on the language used to set it apart, but also on its destination. No matter how effectively you write your anchor text, it will matter little if you reference a low-quality, spammy website.
Conversely, hyperlinks that lead to your website should not be forced on other web pages, e.g., by way of comment spam. Ideally, getting links to your own website should occur naturally, through other webmasters recognizing your site as an authoritative resource.
3. Use anchor text sparingly.
Excessive anchor text is the hyperlink equivalent of keyword stuffing. Both lead to search engine penalties. Never link to another page simply for the sake of it. Every hyperlink should provide clear value to the reader.
4. Emphasize branded links over exact keyword matches.
The Forbes Communication Council recommends using exact match keywords sparingly, as past overuse has prompted Google to penalize even moderate integration of such hyperlinks. Instead, experts advise opting primarily for branded anchors, supplemented occasionally by a blend of the other types of anchor text referenced above. Exact matches and long-tail keywords should form no more than 1% of all anchor text.
5. Pay attention to the surrounding text.
The text preceding and following each hyperlink should flow naturally while also relating to the link's destination. Surrounding text can increase the relevance of the anchor text by granting the reader greater insight into why a particular landing page has been referenced.
When incorporated strategically, anchor text strengthens SEO while also providing value to website visitors. When in doubt, use hyperlinks sparingly, and go for quality over quantity. In the long run, this minimalist approach can improve user experience and get your page to rank better in Google’s search results.
This article was written by Compose.ly writer Stephanie Lica.